Genre: Drama – True Story
Premise: During the Cold War, a crashed pilot becomes a hero after surviving 54 days in the wild, only to see his heroism disintegrate when details of his survival come into question.
About: I’m not going to make a definitive statement here, because I don’t know why Parter and Hillborn wrote this script. But if you put a gun to my head, I’d guess that they saw a picture of the story’s subject, David Steeves, realized he looked EXACTLY like Bradley Cooper, and wrote the script figuring it’d be a formality to get Cooper to sign on. Also, part of their genius was to PLACE THE PICTURE I INCLUDED BELOW AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SCREENPLAY. Think they didn’t know that producers would alert Cooper to the resemblance? This script finished in the middle of the pack on the most recent Black List.
Writers: Evan Parter and Paul Hilborn
Details: 130 pages
If you want to know what Hollywood’s buying, all you have to do is look through 2016’s Black List. The list is dominated by four categories…
Female-driven action movie.
Female-driven comedy movie.
I’ve already made my opinion known on this. I’d prefer something original, something different. But if you’re someone who surfs with the trends, you’ll want to write in one of these genres.
Today’s script goes with choice number 2 and follows David Steeves, a Cold War Air Force pilot who emerged from the Sierra Mountains after being presumed dead for 54 days, after his jet had crashed.
If you thought Sully was a big deal, Steeves became an instant national sensation. He had the looks, the beautiful eyes, and that glorious beard. That beard alone sold headlines.
So big was Steeves that the Post paid him 10 grand for the exclusive rights to his survival story. The man assigned to the story was Clay Blair Jr, a 30-something journalist new at the Post with plans to shake the newspaper up.
As Blair interviews Steeves about his story, we intermittently flash back to Steeves’ perilous journey, most of which hinged on him finding a shack in the middle of nowhere. He used that as his home base, and would’ve starved to death had he not come across it.
At first enamored with Steeves, Blair begins to see little gaps in his story, particularly regarding Steeves’ crashed jet, which was never found. A narrative begins forming that Steeves may have hoaxed his survival story to cover up that he’d sold his jet to the Russians.
The problem with Steeves is that he was far from the model citizen. A drunk and a womanizer, Steeves would routinely cheat on his wife. This painted a picture of a man who built a life around deceit. If he could deceive his wife, why couldn’t he deceive the nation? When Blair decides to cancel the story, the nation swarms in, wanting to know why, and that’s when Steeve’s story, and his life, really begin to fall apart.
If you forced me to pick between the above four trends, I would pick ‘true story’ without hesitation. It allows you to cherry pick a superb story. But more importantly, if you can find a killer true story, it does the work for you. You don’t have to be a great screenwriter to pull it off. You just need to know what you’re doing and let the story write itself.
Think about it. One of the hardest things about writing fiction is when you get to page 50 (or 60 or 70) and run out of story. With a true story, you know what happens ahead of time and can structure the script out accordingly.
A biopic, by comparison, requires a ton of skill, since you have to shape an entire person’s life into two hours, not to mention make it dramatic and entertaining. Since there’s a lot of dead time in a person’s life, it gets tricky figuring out what to include and what to ditch.
This is why Kings Canyon works. A man becomes a hero based on a lie. And both the “hoax” and the “lie” are highly dramatically compelling. That’s what you’re looking for when you’re trying to find a true story. Are its key plot points HIGHLY DRAMATICALLY COMPELLING?
For shits and giggles, let’s pretend this was a real life story about a man who stole $1000 from his employer, then was brought into his boss’s office where he was told they’d caught him. He then had to prove his innocence. Is there drama in that scenario? Sure. Is it HIGH DRAMA? No. The stakes are tiny. With Kings Canyon, you have a man who potentially sold military secrets to our country’s biggest enemy during a time when we all thought a nuclear war with that country was imminent. That’s high drama.
But there are some issues. Because we can’t tell the audience what Steeves is hiding for most of the movie, we’re only ever subjected to his surface. When he’s with his wife, we’re never privy to what he’s thinking. Even in the flashbacks, we only see Steeves’ struggle to survive. We don’t get inside of him.
I would argue that there are 4 other characters we know better than Steeves through the first half of the screenplay. Parter and Hillborn seem to realize this was a problem, and therefore shift the main character role over to Blair. He’s the one with the goal anyway (find the real story), so it makes sense.
But if you’re writing a movie about what happened to someone, are we ever going to feel satisfied if we don’t get to know that someone? Once the “lie” is exposed, Steeves is finally able to come alive as he fights for his dignity. But it’s a long wait, and he’s only active for the final act.
Regardless of that, the script works because the entire thing is a ticking time bomb slash mystery. We know the truth is going to come out sooner or later, and we also want to know what that truth is. As long as you have a compelling question driving your narrative, it’s impossible for your reader to stop reading.
By far the script’s most powerful engine is that of its flashback structure. As the story unfolds, we’re told more and more often that Steeves is a fraud who perpetuated a hoax. However, every time we flash back, even deep into the screenplay, Steeves is in the wild, clearly injured, and clearly trying to survive.
That contrast only deepens our curiosity. If there’s a hoax, what is it? Because it isn’t that Steeves made up his tale of survival.
I also thought the ending was great. There are a couple of late story twists that make you feel like the journey was worth it. So many times you read scripts with these inevitable endings. Like Rogue One. We know the ending at the beginning, so there’s only so much satisfaction we can gain once we get there. Kings Canyon not only throws you for a couple of loops, but it makes you think long and hard about the media-obsessed culture we live in.
I have a feeling they’re going to have a hard time getting Cooper or an actor of his caliber to play Steeves, only because the actor doesn’t have much acting to do for the majority of the story besides look happy. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’ll be drawn to the survival scenes so much that they’re willing to do nothing for the first 3/4 of the present-day narrative. We’ll see. Whatever the case, this screenplay rocked.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: I don’t know if this is a lesson so much as an observation. But I loved how the flashback structure didn’t match up with the present-day narrative (the present is saying he’s a hoaxer, but the flashbacks are saying he’s telling the truth). That alone kept me fascinated throughout Kings Canyon. So maybe our lesson is “contrast between flashbacks and present day creates curiosity?” What I do know is that when your flashbacks tell us exactly what we’re being told in the present, they’re boring as shit. So definitely don’t write your flashbacks that way!
Premise: After an alien ship crash lands in the Mojave Desert, a small group is sent in to inspect it, only to find themselves slowly losing their minds.
About: This script sold a couple of years ago and then disappeared. However, it recently underwent a rewrite assignment. Whenever a script undergoes a rewrite, that’s a good sign. If producers are paying money to have a writer write a new draft, it means they’re trying to push the script to the next stage (find attachments). If a script was sold four years ago and nobody’s working on it, that project is basically dead. The draft I’m reviewing today is the original Terrestrial spec that sold.
Writer: Peter Gaffney
Details: 101 pages – 1/27/14 draft
It’s the new year. And the new year always gets you thinking.
Reminiscing about the past. Wondering about the future. It also forces you to evaluate what you do. I just came across a Jerry Maguire interview on Deadline that began with this line: “Before we get back to the cynical world we live in, how about a sentimental reminiscence with Cameron Crowe…”
In a vacuum, it’s a hollow line. But in context, it sums up the industry I operate in. Movie sites live to emphasize what’s wrong. What’s wrong with Passengers? What’s wrong with Sony? What’s wrong with the indie box office? What’s wrong with the spec market?
All of these are worthy questions. But they drive forth a negative culture that serves to depress the hell out of anyone involved in the industry, as well as anyone trying to get into it. Not even the successes get celebrated anymore. Rogue One will become the biggest box office movie of the year. But go to any movie site (including my own) and all you’ll find is people complaining about it.
I suffer from this disease. I can go two weeks without reviewing something positively. And it kills me. I don’t like giving negative reviews. I wish every script was great, something to celebrate, something we could learn from and be inspired by.
But my bar gets higher every day. Every time I read a script, I become more numb to that type of story. Take today’s script. It’s an “aliens come to earth” script. One of my favorite genres. But also a well-tread one. So when I read Terrestrial, it was, “I’ve seen this before, I’ve read this act before, I’ve seen these characters before…”
It’s hard to impress me. And I’m not going to say, “Wow, this was great!” when it isn’t just to stay positive.
So it puts me in this awkward position where I desperately want to celebrate screenplays but there aren’t enough people writing screenplays that are worthy of celebration.
So I call out to all of you in 2017, amateurs and professionals alike: write a script where you take a chance. That weird idea you have in the bottom of your drawer that you love but you’re terrified of because you think, “It’s too weird. Nobody’s going to go for it.” And you know what? You might be right.
But it could also be amazing. Because what we need now is a revolution – the same way those gunslinger writers and directors changed the game in the 70s and the 90s. And it starts with the writing. It starts WITH YOU. So write your safe script since you have to make a living. Your biopic or true story. But also write your weird “I’m scared shitless of this script” script. Here are a few scripts to inspire you…
Okay, now that I’ve melted your minds with that glob of advice, let’s get into today’s script…
Former Professor David Cantor is living in a Motel 6, wondering where his next job is going to come from. The man hasn’t had the best life, losing his wife and little girl in a fire.
No sooner does Cantor wake up from one of his nightly nightmares than he’s greeted by an army trooper who tells him to pack his bags. Cantor is whisked away and introduced to former Army Ranger Tom Kostovo, who hates his life just as much as Cantor.
Kostovo flies Cantor to the Mojave Desert where Cantor sees their destination – a giant crashed alien space ship.
After meeting with a small team there, we learn that Cantor once made contact with a tribe in the jungle that had never interacted with the outside world before. The army believes that skill will come in handy as they try and communicate with these aliens.
Kostovo and Cantor are joined by a beautiful young woman named Ellen Johannes, a theoretical biologist, and head into the ship to check it out. There, they find that the crew has been killed. But maybe not by the crash.
Everywhere they look, vines cover the ship’s insides, some even growing out of the alien corpses. When Kostovo and Cantor reach the center of the ship, they find the town Cantor grew up in. That’s right: Cantor’s town is in the middle of an alien space ship.
Cantor heads to his old address and finds that not only is his house still there, but so are his wife and daughter! Kostovo also finds the army unit he watched blow up back in Iraq. Meanwhile, Johannes is the only one who’s not hallucinating.
She eventually realizes what’s happening. These vine-plants cause people to go crazy and use that insanity to help them spread to the next host. And they want that next host to be earth!
If Johannes doesn’t convince Kostovo and Cantor that they’re being fucked with by alien vines, there’s a good chance our planet will be plant food by the end of the week.
This script had an uphill battle with me. A plot point I’ve never been fond of is the “ship causes hallucinations” storyline. Dating back to Sphere, it feels like the choice you go with when you don’t have enough story to tell after your characters enter the ship.
At the same time, I see why it’s appealing. It’s an easy way to explore character. You build the hallucinations around a problem from each characters’ past and we stick around to see if they’re able to resolve them. Cantor needs to get over the loss of his wife and daughter, therefore the hallucinations are about his wife and his daughter.
And yet there’s something about it in this setting that bothers me. When I go to an alien invasion movie, I don’t go to see a dude hanging out with his dead wife and daughter. I go to be pulled into the mystery of who the aliens are, where they came from, and why they’re here. That’s why I liked Arrival’s script so much.
Also, if you’re going to explore the internal, you have to do one of two things. Either it has to be a realistic portrayal of an internal problem, or it needs to be something unique we haven’t seen before. The two issues from these characters’ pasts – Cantor with his family dying in a fire and Kostovo with his unit dying in Iraq – felt “written,” the thing you feel like you’re supposed to write rather than thing that should be written.
With that said, the script gets better as it goes on. While at first I found the plants to be boring, their emergence as the true threat took the story into some interesting territory. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make up for the aversion I have to this plot scenario.
We’ll have to see if the rewrites solve that problem. I’m sure the success of Arrival has made this project a priority to someone!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There are two kinds of writers. There’s the writer who loves crowd-pleasing Hollywood movies. And there’s the anti-establishment writer who writes offbeat stuff. Regardless of which type of writer you are, you should be writing BOTH types of scripts. You should be working on your mainstream script and you should be working on your offbeat script (writing back and forth between the two, if possible). Writing outside of your comfort zone makes you a better writer inside your comfort zone.
Hey guys. We’re going to jump back into regular posting next week. For right now though, I have a special treat for you. A NEW Scriptshadow Newsletter!! If it’s not in your Inbox, make sure to check your SPAM or PROMOTIONS folders and you should find it. I review an awesome screenplay by one of the hottest screenwriters in the business. I give you the matchups for our Scriptshadow Tournament semifinalists. And, as always, there are lots of screenwriting tips and links, as well as Scriptshadow consultation deals, inside.
If you don’t see the newsletter in any of your folders, e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line “NO NEWSLETTER” and I’ll send it to you personally. If you want to be added to the newsletter, e-mail me at the same address with the subject line “NEWSLETTER” and I’ll send. If you’ve been on the list and still never receive newsletters, I recommend signing up with another e-mail address.
ENJOY and I’ll see you in the NEW YEAR!
It’s here. It’s now. The ten worst films I saw and the ten best. It should be noted that I haven’t seen La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Collateral Beauty, Passengers, Fences, or Billy Lynn. I’m pretty sure Billy Lynn and Collateral Beauty (going off of what everyone’s saying) would’ve made my “Worst” list. But alas, I don’t have the endurance anymore to go to movies I know I’m going to hate. So, here’s what’s left…
10) Ghostbusters – The cinematic embodiment of the social justice warrior crusade, telling us that we have to like what they, the world, has decided is best for us. The result was a movie that everyone watched and went, “Wait, why do Ghostbusters have to be women now? Why can’t they just be men and women?” Because men in 2016 are bad, that’s why.
9) Batman vs. Superman – So pretentious in its writing and directing that it gave you aches in places you didn’t now you could ache. After the 17th flashback to either Batman or Superman’s past, I wondered if the movie even cared about the present. How a movie with the two most popular superhero characters of all time could be so boring is a question aliens will debate one day when they take over our planet in 2512.
8) The Accountant – I didn’t see a more nonsensical movie all year. He’s OCD. He’s a contract killer. No, wait, he’s an accountant. No, he’s a consultant for companies. No, his dad taught him kung-fu. What’s the plot again? The government needs to find him RIGHT AWAY because he’s living somewhere and not bothering anybody? And he launders money.
7) High-Rise – A beautifully shot film without even 10 minutes spent on a screenplay, this film felt like Ben Wheatley stumbled onto the set and started making up things as he went along. Get a screenwriter, Ben. You’re a stud filmmaker but you can’t do it on your own.
6) Money Monster – An idea plucked out of the early 2000s given the treatment of 1990s film, attempting to rip off the chaos of the 1970s. After it was all said and done, it became a 2016 disaster, a bunch of old people who’ve lost touch with what audiences want. I’m all for adult fare, but you need to know what adults actually want.
5) The Witch – Holy Moses this was the most overrated piece of garbage of the year. I thought I was about to watch something amazing. Instead I witnessed a pretentious period piece with a bunch of well-costumed actors stumbling around a photograph-friendly farm. Another director who’s never learned how to tell a story. Wonderful.
4) Midnight Special – One thing that drives me batty is when reviewers give a bad film a good grade cause doing otherwise would fuck with the narrative. Jeff Nichols is supposed to be this up-and-coming filmmaker and this was supposed to be his break into the mainstream, his “early Steven Spielberg” film. Instead, it was a wandering mess that never committed to anything concrete, choosing instead to imply a whole lot of nothing, leaving us wondering what the point of the movie was when it was over. It’s okay to write screenplays that make sense. And it’s okay to say a movie sucked even when it doesn’t fit the narrative.
3) A Hologram For a King – This movie was the most bizarre thing I saw all year. It felt like something directed by Siri. Yes, I’m talking about the Artificially Intelligent concierge on your phone. Tom Hanks technically gave a performance, though I have a strong suspicion that he Skyped in his scenes standing in front of a green screen, which were then digital inserted into the film. If that doesn’t sell you, maybe the plot where nothing happens for 120 minutes will win you over.
2) Eddie the Eagle – Easily the worst performance of the year. I want you to go to the nearest mirror and make the goofiest smile-face you can think of. That was the actor’s, in this movie, entire performance. The writer also forgot to leave the 80s, as this screenplay seems to have been written immediately after a binge-watch of every 80s comedy ever made.
1) Sully – Was this the worst movie of the year? Probably not. Was it the most pointless movie of the year? Definitely. Sully and Billy Lynn (of which I read the book) are an example of what happens when you try to make a movie without a single dramatic beat. Drama is the essence of entertainment, something the makers of this film either don’t know or, worse, ignored.
10) Central Intelligence – Before you castrate me for liking this film, a film I’m sure you haven’t seen, let me add some perspective to the conversation. I don’t like Kevin Hart at all. I detest nearly every film he’s in. That Ride Along flick is garbage. Central Intelligence, however, not only gives us the best chemistry between two actors in any movie this year, but it’s a surprisingly good screenplay. Nothing flashy. Stays close to all the beats you’re supposed to hit. Yet it manages to stay ahead of the reader/viewer. Biggest surprise all year as I expected this to suck.
9) Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru – I promise you there isn’t a film you’ll see this year that will make you squirm more than this one. It’s on Netflix and all I ask is that you watch the opening scene. I promise you won’t be able to look away. You’ll ask, out loud, “Does this really happen?” It does. Welcome to the cult of Tony Robbins.
8) Kubo and the Two Strings – This movie isn’t perfect. Before seeing it, I heard people marveling at how a “simple story could be so good.” But Kubo isn’t simple at all. Actually, it has some of the more complex and hard-to-follow world building I’ve encountered this year. Despite that, it’s a beautiful film to watch and listen to, and comes together in such a satisfying way in the end.
7) Zootopia – There wasn’t a movie in 2016 that made you feel happier to be alive than this one. That damn rabbit is so freaking cute.
6) Deadpool – The superhero genre needed to be disrupted. Deadpool charged towards the wall Hollywood tried to put up in front of it, broke through, and gave us the biggest box office surprise of 2016. It also reinforced the notion that nothing ever gets made by accident in this town. There has to be at least one person who will stop at nothing to get their movie made. Deadpool had four of those people and we’re the beneficiaries of their drive.
5) Weiner – I know, I know. Another documentary, Carson? Really? Just watch this film. You’ve never met anyone who can’t get out of their own way the way Anthony Weiner can’t get out of his own way. What a freaking weirdo. What’s so strange is that when he’s out in public speaking about issues and policies, he’s captivating. Then he gets home and all bets are off. The x-factor about this movie is the weird way in which it will later influence the 2016 presidential election.
4) Hunt for the Wilderpeople – This movie makes me want to move to New Zealand. I loved the main character. I loved the relationship between the main character and the stepfather. I loved how you had no idea what was going to happen next. This movie makes you feel good about life in a different way than say, Zootopia, but does the job nonetheless.
3) Eye in the Sky – I never thought I’d like a movie about drones so much. But let me put this not so delicately. This is the movie The Hurt Locker could’ve been if it had a screenplay. They actually thought this thing through, and, as a result, we get the most tension-filled movie of the year.
2) Swiss Army Man – The best movie score of the year accompanies the trippiest movie of the year. This movie is not for everyone, but it’s the only movie that I saw all year that took REAL ARTISTIC CHANCES and those chances actually paid off. It’s weird, it’s unsettling, it’s funny, it’s awkward, but most of all, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
1) Don’t Think Twice – This is the only movie I saw all year that genuinely affected me on an emotional level. Sure, part of that is because it’s about the “artist’s journey” which is so relatable to me. But the character development is better than any other screenplay this year by miles. And like any good movie, it keeps getting better as it goes on. If you’re an artist, you will want to see this movie. It’s perfect.
Sorry about the lack of posts. I was at LAX all night yesterday trying to get back to the Midwest. I didn’t make it but it looks like a Christmas miracle might get me out tonight. Before we move on to today’s article, I want to beg every traveler out there to please never fly American Airlines for the rest of your lives. Not only is it a terrible airline as far as comfort and customer service, but they have to be the most clueless airline company on the planet.
After being bumped 3 times last night to later and later flights, my last flight changed gates ELEVEN TIMES. That is not a printing error nor is it an exaggeration. In addition to this, I saw three women break down, fall to the floor, and start crying, due to how much they’d been dicked around all night, and one man lead a 30 person revolt against the gate attendant. It was insane.
After we’d changed gates for the 10th time, American Airlines kept saying we couldn’t board because the plane outside was broken, and they needed to tow it out before they could bring in “our plane.” We waited an hour for this towing to happen. Finally, when they moved us to our 11th and final gate, which did not have a plane in it, many astute passengers pointed out that since they no longer needed to tow a plane away, they could bring “our plane” up and start boarding. American Airlines, clearly caught in a lie, quickly moved to a new excuse about air traffic being broken or something.
I know the holidays are crazy for air travel but I’m not basing my critique here on just this experience. Every time I have flown American Airlines, it has been terrible. I only flew them this time because I had to. But I will never fly them again after this. It was the last straw.
Now, on to funner topics!
Because I don’t have time to write an in-depth article or review, I thought I’d share with you some brief thoughts on a screenwriting concept that’s always frustrated me: THEME
Theme has always been a tricky concept. To this day, I’m yet to meet someone who’s given me a definition for theme that doesn’t sound bullshitty (this is why theme posts get debated so vigorously – since there is no definition, everyone’s interpretation is different). But the other day I stumbled upon a Youtube video covering academia and had a mini-revelation. As I retroactively tested that revelation, I realized how much sense it made.
The idea is this. “Theme” comes in two flavors – simple and complex. BOTH can work effectively. You can use the simple version of theme and still write a good movie. In fact, I’d argue that the simple version gives you a better chance at writing a good movie. However, the complex version gives you a chance at writing a GREAT movie.
But before we get into that, let’s remind ourselves why we’d want a theme in the first place. A theme is there to keep your story focused. Whenever you lose your way, like a lighthouse, the theme is there to steer you back on course. Without a theme, your script seems scattered, confused, and unsure of what it’s trying to say.
If you were to grade this article on theme, for example, it would fail. I started out talking about how shitty American Airlines was before moving onto a screenwriting article. That’s thematically inconsistent, which is why this article feels messy. You could argue that because I just referenced my opening to prove a point about theme, that the theme for this article is intact, but that’s a debate for another time.
On to “simple theme.” The simple version of theme is the act of wrapping everything around a single idea. That idea can be anything! Take the Star Wars movies. A common theme I’ve heard thrown around for them is “Good vs. Evil.” As long as you play out the struggle of good vs. evil, the movie’s going to feel consistent and whole. However, if a storyline popped up in Star Wars about a character who was obsessed with money and needed to have all the money in the universe, you’d be like, “Uh, what the hell does this have to do with Star Wars?”
Or take Zootopia. The theme there is that we can be anything we want if we put our minds to it. It’s a simple easy to follow formula that gives your movie a point. And since Star Wars and Zootopia are both awesome movies, we know this type of theme works.
Now let’s move to the complex version of theme. To achieve this, we’ll be transforming the word itself. “Theme” will now become “Thesis.” The idea with a thesis is to create a question or theory that has to be proven or debated over the course of the story. Whereas bigger budget Hollywood fare will lean on theme to power its core, character pieces rely more on a thesis. And the best way to understand the power of a thesis is to compare two similar character pieces, one that used a theme, the other that used a thesis.
The first is Sully. Sully was boring as shit. Why was it boring as shit? Because the theme was boring as shit. What was that theme: Heroism. That’s it! A man being a hero. Now yes, that kept the story consistent throughout its running time. We were never confused about what Sully was about. But because this was a character piece, it needed a thesis, something that forced us to think a little more.
Bring in Flight. Flight based its screenplay on a thesis, that thesis being: “Can a bad person still be a hero?” Denzel Washington’s captain character put 250 peoples’ lives at risk by drinking all night and snorting up coke before he piloted that flight. But he still ended up pulling off a radical maneuver that saved most of the passengers’ lives. Notice how, by using a thesis, the story becomes a lot more complex. We’re not sure what we think of Whip. Yeah, he saved all those people, but he shouldn’t have gotten on that plane fucked up in the first place.
In both cases, we have something to center the story on. But in one, that something merely represents what’s going on, whereas in the other, it forces us to continually ask a question. Can bad people be heroes?
Hey wait a minute. My last two examples were about airplanes. Maybe this article is more theme-centric than I gave it credit for.
I’ll finish by saying this. If you’re just starting out in screenwriting, whether you’re writing a Hollywood movie or a character piece, go with a theme. Even if you’re experienced and you’re writing a Hollywood movie, go with a theme. The only people for whom I’d encourage using a thesis are seasoned screenwriters who are writing character pieces. I say this because I’ve seen beginner screenwriters try and use theses and they always make it too complicated on themselves. By trying to make their stories so intelligent and thematically resonant, they forget to actually make them entertaining. Don’t be one of those guys.